Sam Allardyce says Sunderland must hold their nerve in their do-or-die basement clash against Aston Villa.
Sunderland’s hopes of maintaining their Premier League existence will be left in tatters if they fail to emerge victorious from this weekend’s visit of bottom side Villa, with the Black Cats already seven points adrift of safety after five successive defeats.
Villa are in an even worse plight than Sunderland, with Remi Garde’s side registering just eight points from their first 19 games and failing to emerge victorious since the opening day of the season.
With so much at stake for the Premier League’s two bottom sides, Sunderland boss Allardyce expects the Stadium of Light to be wrought with tension.
But he knows Sunderland must be able to cope with that anxiety, for a game he has labelled the “biggest of the season”.
Allardyce said: “It’s all about holding your nerve.
“We’re the home side so we’re perhaps favourites.
“We’ve got to be proactive; make sure that we take control of the game, try to break down Villa, who will probably play on the break and frustrate us.
“Let’s see if we’re capable of doing that on the day.
“The last time we faced the biggest game of the season, we failed miserably against Watford.
“I know Watford are a very good side, but we were capable of winning that game.
“On the performance, we were capable of winning it, even though we conceded early on and didn’t take our chances.
“That would have got us to 15 points from 16 games, and we haven’t got a point since then. It’s even bigger this one now than Watford.
“We must hold our nerve.
“The fans were excellent on Wednesday and hopefully they’ll be just as encouraging with the players again to try to help us win.”
Sunderland produced a better display of commitment and work-rate in Wednesday night’s defeat against Liverpool than in the feeble losses at Chelsea and Manchester City.
Yet once Christian Benteke had opened the scoring 22 seconds after the break, Sunderland never looked like getting back into the encounter, with Allardyce concerned about that lack of attacking threat.
“I still think there’s a lack of consistency in the side,” he added.
“I see some very good performances and then some very poor ones, from the same player in a short period of time.
“That’s got to be cut out. We have to be more consistent.
“We’ve got to get better quality in the final third.
“Players have to show a better quality of pass, cross or final ball and a better finish.”